Accept What Is or Change the Sandbox: Don’t Force-Fit

Written by Darren Kanthal

April 27, 2021

Have you ever found yourself in a professional situation where things just didn’t “fit?” Sure, the job was great on paper, and you were definitely qualified to be there, but the longer you were there, the less bearable the situation became, like a shoe you found on sale that looked great, but was actually too small. You invested in the shoe anyway, but now whenever you wear them, your foot goes numb. Maybe the office culture felt stifling, or you quickly became known as “the loud one” because you expressed passion and enthusiasm where others just fell in line. I’ve been there any number of times, and I can tell you, it’s not fun or sustainable. At one point when I found myself in this type of situation, a wise person said to me, either accept what is or convert it to what you want it to be. Fighting my situation, trying to fall in line, or playing by someone else’s set of rules wasn’t helping; nor would it change my situation. As I’ve grown to learn, the best course of action would have been to recognize the emotion I was feeling, understand where it was coming from, and move forward from a space of deeper understanding. This would have allowed me to take control of my situation, knowing I made the conscious choice to either accept what was, or work to make it what I wanted. Those wise words ring in my brain to this day on a variety of issues, most specifically around reconciling the man I am with the professional I continue to become. Change the Sandbox | Don’t Force-Fit Into a Mold Throughout my corporate career I often worked for managers who I found ineffective, close-minded, and the bottleneck to progress. Earlier in my career, my “New York state of mind” would come out – my pointed, aggressive, ‘I’m right and you’re wrong’ mentality. In short, I sure made it clear that I wasn’t accepting of corporate environments that didn’t fit my beliefs, style or pace, and I also made it very hard for others to accept me. So what did I do? I wallowed! I complained, and nothing got better; it only got worse. During this time, I did come to learn some things about myself — the sticking points that caused friction between being a man of my convictions and fitting into my work environment: – I like to be loud, opinionated, and passionate about what I’m doing, especially when that involves challenging the status quo – I do well when I’m focused on action — that doesn’t mean that I ignore emotions altogether, but focusing on action gets me out of my funk quicker – I’m a last-minute guy. It works for me. Or does it…? At this point, another wise person said to me, instead of trying to fit into a sandbox you don’t really want to play in, why not change the sandbox? Whoa! Mind blown! Sure, it was a message similar to the first wise person, but this snapped into decisive action. I could be in charge of my situation! That’s when I decided to be an entrepreneur. Turns out, someone else’s sandbox just wasn’t for me. Nowadays, I play by a set of rules I have a hand in writing. And I know it’s working because of the great feedback I get from the clients I work with. Living by My Own Rules | Action-oriented When I first started coaching, I struggled to go deep in supporting my clients to connect with their emotions. Of course I did! I was unwilling to go deep into my own! I was frightened by what was there, scared to be vulnerable, and not willing to explore what was beneath the surface. After many tears and lots of self-exploration I realized I’m an action-oriented guy. I’ve always known this but now it’s different – I used to act on emotion and ignite emotional wildfires. I’d get triggered, act from a place of anger, and BOOM – shit was on fire!! Nowadays my emotions are an alert signal. As I feel the familiar chest tightening, jaw clenching, gritting of teeth, or shortness of breath – I pause. I explore why I’m feeling this way, THEN take action from a place of purpose and productivity. Embrace Imperfection | Last-minute guy As a last-minute guy, when I’m not prepared, my last-minute problem is now yours. I expect you to move at my pace. I expect you to drop your priorities to suit mine. I’m sure you can guess how that went over with coworkers, colleagues, friends and family. For years I’d fight this reality. Me? Last minute?! Nnnaaahhhh. I was unwilling to accept this about myself until it hit me square in the face two months ago when I was completely unprepared for something that affected five other people. The more poorly it went, the more down on myself I became. It didn’t matter how much they said “it’s fine, don’t worry about it.” I knew I screwed up and became more and more upset with myself. Acceptance and conversion, right? Accept what is or convert to what I want it to be. Well, I’m a last-minute guy and I’ve got 45 years of evidence to prove it. Do I really have a problem with it? Does it need to be changed? Yes and no… if I know I’m a last-minute guy, what modifications can I make, what can I convert about my practices to ensure my last-minute-ness isn’t your problem? VOILA!! That was it!! I am now more accepting of who I am and have converted the practices that affected others. I speak more openly with my partners, I share the timeframe that I’m working within, I acknowledge their priorities, I ask about reasonable next steps and timeframes based on their calendar. And then I operate within a framework that honors my style and theirs. Does that mean I don’t wait until the last-minute anymore? Hell no! I most certainly do because that’s who I am. Nowadays I take necessary action to ensure my last-minute-ness isn’t anyone’s problem but mine. Throughout life I’ve noticed myself, those closest to me, and my clients question the very people we are. As if perfection is an achievable model! I tell people, “you are perfect in your imperfections,” and now I apply that same saying to myself. I encourage you to take one action, one note of self-awareness. What aspect of yourself are you fighting against? What are you willing to accept and/or what needs to be converted to meet your expectation? Connect with The Kanthal Group and we can support you in finding out.

Darren Kanthal

Darren Kanthal, Founder of The Kanthal Group, is a values-driven leadership and career coach with over 20 years of experience in HR and Talent Acquisition. Darren is intensely passionate about helping mid-career leaders cut through the BS, do the foundational work, and achieve their greatness.

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